What Can The World’s Smartest Lake Teach Us About Building Smart Teams?

Scott K. Johnson wrote this excellent article at Ars Technica about some impressive work being done in mapping and modeling environmental data at Lake George. What’s fascinating to me, is seeing people working together so well, on a huge multi-year project that has a potential for great impact. Some things I see as contributing to this project’s success:

Cross Functional Teams

The  “Jefferson Project” is an interdisciplinary partnership between IBM, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and FUND for Lake George. Each partner brings different skills to the project, and they are collaborating together. Collaboration is a basic model for a successful team. Instead of separate teams of specialists working on their own sub-projects, the groups work with one another on slices of the same project.

Organized Around A Single Goal

The FUND for Lake George states its single driving goal as Stopping the present decline of water quality and achieving sustained protection of Lake George for the next generation. They go even further than that. They want to set the standard for restoration efforts anywhere in the world. I imagine that everyone working on this project is on board with this goal. The people at IBM are probably most interested in pushing the limits of big data. At the same time, they must understand that this work isn’t about the data, but about the data in the service of protecting the lake. On any successful team, each contributor is more valuable when they understand how their contribution provides value to the larger goal.

Information Radiators

Each sensor helps scientists study the impact of stressors on the lake in real time. For a Scrum team, radiating information in real time is also vital. Everyone should be able to see the team’s progress in the moment, without having to wait until the next progress meeting.

Always-Changing Environment / Marketplace

Nothing is static. The Lake George team is moving beyond real-time data. They’re creating sensors that will adjust the sampling size when unusual events are detected. This is just the type of thing that your project team can do. Every meeting is an opportunity to inspect the work in progress. Every Sprint is an opportunity to take a step back and see the big picture. Things will always be changing. Keep in mind the Agile Manifesto value of “responding to change over following a plan”. When you notice big changes on the horizon, it’s time to increase your observations, so that your short term plans can be informed, and you will be ready to modify your course if needed.


Internet of Things In My Garden

Image from page 16 of "Currie's farm and garden annual : Spring 1917" (1917) Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library Page 16 of “Currie’s farm and garden annual : Spring 1917”

Talking to your plants might make them grow better. I haven’t come across the evidence that confirms it. I’m more interested in the day my plants talk to me.

Tell me, sweet blueberries, is the pH too high for you in here? Is the sunlight enough or is it too much? Roses, are you thirsty? How are your roots doing? My dear tree, are you seriously considering running a root that close to the surface of the freshly paved driveway?

I want the lawn service to be notified of everything the plants have to say. I want to set preferences with the lawn service, too. For some things, I want the service to propose a date and let me confirm. For other things (bugs!), I want them to show up as soon as possible.

Automagically Created Photo Albums

Here’s some very clever research from Disney into making photo albums automatically from all the thousands of photos we shoot.

I can imagine this technology being used along with geolocation APIs to create beautiful keepsakes of vacation trips!


Drones Herding Cows!

This is such a cute video. I’m originally from dairy farm country in upstate New York, so I have an affinity for this sort of thing.

From the research above, drones seem to be at least as effective as dogs for herding cattle … but clearly out of their league if you’re going for prize in cute:

By the way, Urban Drones (@UrbanDrones) is worth following for everything you ever wanted to know about drones. They’re active on Cyber Dust, where I originally found them. Here’s the link to use from your phone to add them: +urbandrones

More on drones

Touchable Virtual 3D Objects

This is really far out: a team of researchers at University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science has demonstrated a way to use ultrasound to create floating shapes that feel real to the touch!

They speculate that “The new technology could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan by enabling them to feel a disease, such as a tumour, using haptic feedback.”


Curation, Algorithmic & Human

Here’s a great quote from Mike McCue of Flipboard in an interview by Robert Scoble at the launch of their version 3:

algorithmic & human curation woven together is extremely powerful

Marcy and Mike McCue, Flipboard’s co-founders, set out to create a personal magazine. The Zite acquisition earlier this year brought them closer to that vision. Now they have a better topic-based model for surfacing the content that people indicate they want to read. The cool thing here is the emphasis on making human-generated data an important part of the mix.

There are lots of flavors of weaving together algorithmic and human curation.

Compare Flipboard to Mashable, which orders itself completely by an algorithm. Well, it kind of does. Its “Velocity graphs” show which content is trending in number of shares. That data is pulled back into Mashable, merged with their predictive engine, and the articles that are likely to go viral are fed to the top of the stream. So you could say that there’s a human metric built into the algorithm: people naturally share what they like, and everyone gets to see more of that sort of thing. Flipboard has a similar feedback process, but they designed it so the pivot of control is closer to the individual readers.

With Twitter, you can already curate your own content, just by following interesting people. It takes more effort, but you can use lists and search to surface the content you want. Twitter is cautiously moving in a more algorithmic direction with their main feed, and they got some flack about it, too. Twitter should start thinking more like Flipboard and give people better tools, to let them curate their own main feeds.

Playlists are a more sophisticated kind of human-curated content, since content is in a specific order, in a context. Humans love playlist features like the ones from Songza (acquired by Google) and Beats Music (acquired by Apple) because we like to tell stories. We also do it better than machines.

Flocks Of Drones At Disney?

Check out this report about how Disney wants to use drones in it’s theme park shows.

I imagined drones in theme parks for boring utility purposes. Use your phone to make order a drink while you wait for your table at a restaurant seat and a drone delivers it. Or drones that deliver water and other goodies while you stand in line for a ride. Or they would take tracking videos of you as you scream your head off on a ride.

I hadn’t considered drones as actors on an entertainment stage. These patents from Disney are eye-opening, especially the idea of using “flocks of drones” in a coordinated dance. The word flock makes me imagine drones that communicate to each other as they fly, but even if it’s only a flock that’s controlled by an operator on the ground it’s still awesome.